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Officials say there is no dengue fever epidemic in Key West

A woman planning a vacation in Key West called the Health Department there last week to ask if it were true that the city was being evacuated because of an epidemic of dengue fever.

"No!" Chris Tittel, a spokesman for the Monroe County Health Department, says he told her. "No, no, no, no, no."

Without a doubt, there is dengue, a viral illness spread by mosquitoes, in Key West, although at 27 known cases last year and 18 so far this year, it is hardly what most people would call an epidemic. It is the first outbreak in Florida since 1934.

Parts of the Caribbean and Central America are having epidemics.

News of the disease apparently has unsettled a few potential visitors. Tourism officials and business owners in Key West are even more unsettled, by the way the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has publicized the cases.

On July 13, the centers issued a news release that 5 percent of Key West's population showed evidence of recent exposure to the dengue virus. The estimate was based on tests of 240 residents, of whom 13 were positive.

Local officials were irked that the centers had used just 240 people to estimate an exposure rate for the entire city, which has a population of about 25,000.

Dr. Peter J. Hotez, a tropical medicine expert at George Washington University, said he the potential was pretty high for dengue to spread up the Gulf Coast.

"I believe the threat is very real," he said. "And we understand that the CDC is about to close its dengue branch. Can you imagine anything so stupid? This is the worst time possible."

Key West residents have been taking it all in stride. At a parade in October, a group calling itself Dengue Night Fever included a John Travolta look-alike and followers sporting giant mosquito wings.

Officials say there is no dengue fever epidemic in Key West 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 10:47pm]
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